A gauge of how the community feels about the local RCMP has opened up room for improvement while at the same time identifying ways the Smithers RCMP have been doing right.
The B.C. Civi Liberties Association (BCCLA) report, Small Town Justice: A report on the RCMP in Northern and Rural British Columbia, outlined six positive and 13 negative topics brought up at a public meeting at the Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre on Aug. 16 last year.
Thirty-two people attended the event.
Staff sergeant Sheila White with the Smithers detachment said that the report can be helpful but there are some key problems with the report.
“There were 32 people that attended the workshop and some of the concerns that were brought up at the workshop, at least according to the report, seem to be a number of individual experiences with the police and it’s very hard for me to address individual concerns when I can’t put a face to the name or directly address a problem,” she said.
That being the case, she does say that she “[believes[ that there is room for improvement in any organization,” and that this report has been looked at very closely by her.
“I’ve taken an interest in exploring just about every paragraph and trying to determine if there are ways I can address some of the issues mentioned at a detachment level.”
The negative comments on RCMP in the community included the length of placement for officers (White notes that there is no time limit for officers in Smithers.), lack of accountability, and improved communication with the First Nations community members.
White pointed out that the detachment has an officer who is dedicated to aboriginal relations.
“She’s very good at being a very clear liaison between bringing the police message to the aboriginal community and vice-versa.”
As in general, she said communication is an area that can always have improvement but communication with the community and aboriginal community is always at the top of her list.
There were also complaints of the RCMP using pepper spray “more often than was necessary.”
One participant in the meeting from last August said that her daughter and cousin were pepper sprayed “for no reason” outside of a nightclub, it is written in the report.
Unlike with other tools such as Tasers, individual uses of pepper spray are not documented by the detachment, but White does has a log when pepper spray units need to be replenished for an officer.
Inappropriate use by officers is not a complaint she’s had to deal with, she said, and added it’s not the first course of action by an officer due to the time it takes up afterwards such as decontamination.
“In my experience … if pepper spray comes out and it’s used it’s for a reason,” she said. “It’s not a last resort but it’s certainly not used as a first resort.”
Talking on another subject, she disputed claims within the report from certain participants who felt that youth in the community were being discriminated against.
The header “RCMP and aboriginal youth” had participants concerned about how youth were treated, while it was acknowledged by participants it wasn’t necessarily racial profiling as they saw it.
White said that RCMP don’t go targeting youth but that a lot of the times they attend to youth are in response to complaints from the public.
“Quite often it’s a response to the community calling us for service. So we can’t not go talk to youth,” she said. “At the same time I do recognize that youth may seem they are targeted because the police … majority of their interactions with us might be on the negative side or they’re apprehensive about being seen around with the police but usually our calls for service come from the general public and we respond to the complaint.”
It wasn’t all bad for the detachment. Positive comments included officers’ community involvement, including the Cops for Cancer bike ride, officers who walk their beat, safety initiatives, event security planning, and officers making sure people in cells get access to their prescribed medicine.
The entire report can be read online at http://www.bccla.org/ — the BCCLA’s official website.